Bruins prospects in their draft years 2013-15

Back with part two of the look at Bruins prospects and how they were projected in their draft seasons by Red Line Report.

In case you missed it, I did this exercise with the 2015-16 NHL Bruins roster here...and part 1- the 2010-12 NHL drafts and B’s prospects and free agents in those draft years are covered here.

And…we’re off:

2013

Ryan Fitzgerald, C Drafted: 120 (4th round- Boston)

Red Line ranking: 52                    Key comment: “Not big but we like the high hockey IQ and bloodlines.”

Observations: RLR rated him high in 2013, and that might have reflected his standing in the first half of the season with the USPHL’s Valley Jr. Warriors, as he had a downward trend heading into the draft. The nephew of Bruins assistant amateur scouting director Scott Fitzgerald is a gritty, feisty if undersized pivot for Boston College, who is coming off his finest NCAA year as a junior. In similar fashion to Seth Griffith, Fitzgerald’s major knocks are a lack of size and dynamic speed for his stature, but he has terrific hockey sense and a nonstop motor. You have to like his bloodlines- dad Tom Fitzgerald played more than 1,000 games and is Ray Shero’s assistant GM with the New Jersey Devils. Ryan grew up around the game and knows what it takes to be a pro. The Fitzgeralds are hockey royalty in New England, so it looks like the 2013 fourth-rounder will go back to BC for his senior year and then sign in spring 2017 when his eligibility is exhausted.

 

Linus Arnesson, D Drafted: 59  (2nd round- Boston)

Red Line ranking: 75                       Key comment: “As B.B. King would say- ‘the thrill is gone.'”

Observations: A late 1994-born player, Arnesson likely would have been taken in the late first/early second in 2012, but another year of viewing moved him down in the rankings over a lack of offensive potential. With his size and skating, Arnesson at one time looked like a potential top-2 NHL defenseman who might have some power play chops at the highest level, but as scouts got a longer look at him in an extra 2012-13 campaign, it became more evident that the steady Swede was more of a “safe” and unspectacular positional defensive defenseman than one who joins the rush and has the hands and head to be a presence on the score sheet. The good news for the Bruins is that they didn’t draft Arnesson in the late first round, so getting him at the end of the second was decent value for them. He showed promise at the end of 2014-15, when he came over to finish the season in Providence, but this past year- his first full AHL campaign was a bit of a bust as he battled nagging injuries and rollercoaster play. That’s not to say he doesn’t have a future in the Bruins organization, and as a guy who plays a vanilla game, he could earn a recall at some point if the team needs a solid defensive presence. Having said that, he looks like something the B’s already have in abundance: a 4/5/6 player who provides okay depth but best case would be an unheralded second pairing D who puts up at best 15-20 points a season but works well with a more offense-minded partner. The old adage on defense in hockey says that if a player is doing his job well, you don’t notice him. That appears to be the case with Arnesson, but the Bruins were hoping for more than that when they took him with their top choice three years ago (after giving up their first-rounder to Dallas for Jaromir Jagr).

 

Peter Cehlarik, LW Drafted: 89  (3rd round- Boston)

Red Line ranking: 111                         Key comment: “Tall & lanky with great hands but feet betray him.”

Observations: This late riser ended up generating some draft buzz and is still an intriguing if oft-forgotten man when it comes to prospect discussions. The Slovak, who has spent the past three seasons playing in Sweden, is a top-six NHL forward dark horse kind of prospect, but he’s also one of those guys who is tough to peg because if he doesn’t make it as a scorer, it’s hard to envision him playing a heavy and responsible enough game to succeed on the third or fourth lines in Boston. His initial first steps are a bit clunky, though with a long, efficient stride, he can work well in open space with good straight line speed. Cehlarik improved his skating from when he was first drafted, but it will never be a strength. He has a quick release that allows him to score goals off the rush- an-instride drive that sometimes handcuffs goalies. He’ll also take the puck in close and shows some pretty fine dangle in getting net minders to open up and commit. Don Sweeney once described the puck coming off his stick as a “slingshot”to me, so there’s that.

 

Wiley Sherman, D   Drafted: 150  (5th round- Boston)

Red Line ranking: 125                 Key comment: “Getting around him is like circumnavigating the globe.”

Observations: Drafted as an identified project, Sherman is similar to O’Gara in that he has a lot of developing to do. The Greenwich, Conn. native is more of a gentle giant at 6-foot-6, but with his wingspan and long reach, along with pretty agile footwork for one so big, he’s tough to beat 1-on-1. He’s not a physical force but is more of a smart positional defender who angles opponents away from his net and sacrifices his body to block shots rather than look for open-ice kill shots and hammering players along the boards. When Sherman has time and space, he’s capable of moving the puck out of his own end, but when the game closes in on him quickly, his processing time lengthens and he can be forced into turning it over. Drafted out of Hotchkiss School, he took an extra year of prep before getting to Harvard, so he’s still pretty raw and will likely take the full two years remaining on his NCAA eligibility before the B’s will assess whether to bring him into the organizational fold.

 

Anton Blidh, LW      Drafted: 180  (6th round- Boston)

Red Line ranking: Not ranked

Observations: One RLR European staffer summed up Blidh succinctly in Newark after the pick was made: “Gritty rugged guy, but no skills.” I’ll admit- have not really seen much to this player in the three years since he was drafted, even when he had a nice 2015 World Jr. tourney for Team Sweden. He’s gritty and rugged, but plays a very simple, straight-line game. It’s a nice fit for what the Bruins like, but Blidh is a dime-a-dozen kind of guy and it stands to reason given where they selected him. He’s not someone who is going to suddenly wake up and start lighting it up, but the team could do a lot worse than Blidh on the fourth line or in a pinch. In other words- as long as you take him for what he is, there’s no reason to get excited.

 

2014

Ryan Donato, C                        Drafted: 56  (2nd round- Boston)

Red Line ranking: 65               Key comment: “Great bloodlines and hockey sense with soft hands.”

Observations: The B’s grabbed the son of one of their hometown favorites and the pick looks solid two years later. Coming out of his freshman year at Harvard under dad, Ted, the younger Donato also earned a Bronze medal at the 2016 WJC with Team USA. He’s always been a heady, creative playmaking center who is bigger than his dad but doesn’t have the blazing wheels. With the Crimson, Donato showed signs of being on track to be a dominant NCAA scorer in the next couple of years. The B’s can afford to be patient with him and they will- there is no reason to rush him to the big show.

 

Danton Heinen, LW/RW           Drafted: 116 (4th round- Boston)

Red Line ranking: Not ranked

Observations: Nobody (outside of the NHL clubs on him) hit on Heinen…not one scouting service had him even ranked, and RLR was no exception. Two years later, Heinen scored nearly 100 points, making an immediate impact as a freshman and then following it up as a sophomore, leading the Pioneers in scoring after a slow start. He signed with Boston in April, giving up his last two years of NCAA eligibility to turn pro. Heinen made positive waves in his first AHL contest with Providence, registering a multi-point effort. He came down to earth a bit in the playoffs, but the British Columbia native looks like an intriguing playmaking wing, who uses his superior vision and creativity to control the flow and tempo in the offensive zone. He looks like a keeper. As for the questions surrounding Heinen and whether he can make the Boston roster right away, it probably wouldn’t kill folks to exert a little more patience and let him at least start in Providence to see how he adjusts to the pro challenges. He’s a talented forward with an intriguing ceiling if he continues his development, but let’s see how Heinen looks at his first pro training camp before penciling him into the Boston opening night lineup.

 

Anders Bjork,  RW      Drafted: 146 (5th round- Boston)

Red Line ranking: 178               Key comment: “Has the skating and the work ethic to make it as a checker.”

Observations: This late-round value pick is coming off a very good sophomore campaign at Notre Dame. He’s quick out of the starting blocks, accelerating quickly and demonstrating a nice short-area burst, which makes him highly effective on the fore check. He’s an energetic player and relentless in puck pursuit, but with the Fighting Irish this season, Bjork showed surprisingly consistent offensive flair, leading the club in scoring. He’ll need to keep putting up the points to project as something more than an ideal third-line forward, so expect him to come down to earth a bit next season, but he certainly looks like a nice value pick in the fifth round for the B’s because of his well-rounded game and smarts.

 

Emil Johansson, D      Drafted: 206 (7th round- Boston)

Red Line ranking: Not ranked

Observations: A lack of hockey sense had him off of RLR’s list, but Johansson had a strong finish to the 2015-16 season that might earn him more of a hard look going forward. He’s got a bit of a doughy build and has been knocked for his conditioning in the past. Johansson is a capable skater who moves well laterally, and handles the puck with confidence. When it comes to vision and hockey IQ, we’re not all that sure if he’s got what it takes between the ears to play at the NHL level, but admittedly- he’s made a case to at least be in the conversation. It appears he is leaving his HV71 club for MoDo, so we’ll see what comes next in his development.

 

Colby Cave, C         Drafted: Undrafted (Free Agent- Boston 2015)

Red Line ranking: 85                  Key comment: “Complete centre is versatile- can excel in any role.”

Observations: Ranked in both 2013 and 2014 RLR draft guides, he’s an industrious two-way center that impressed in Swift Current with 2015 first-rounder Jake DeBrusk before getting signed by Boston before the team made his teammate one of three top-15 picks in Sunrise. He skates well and like Bjork shows some real energy and tenacity when pressuring the opposing puck carrier coming out of the zone. He didn’t put up big numbers in Providence, but had his moments and looks like he could challenge for lower line duty in Boston if he keeps progressing.

 

2015

Jakub Zboril, D         Drafted: 13 (1st round- Boston)

Red Line ranking: 26                  Key comment: “Intense, and a physical specimen with a cannon shot.”

Observations: The Bruins missed out on an impressive top tier of defenders in the top-10, instead settling for arguably the next best player in Zboril, at least in terms of talent. Ability-wise, there is no doubt the Czech product could be a top-3 defenseman in the NHL one day, but the consistency and effort levels were at times lacking in his draft season. He took a step back statistically this past year, struggling at the beginning of the season before settling into a more defense-oriented role for Danny Flynn’s Saint John Sea Dogs. Zboril plays with a physical edge and when on his game, he’s as good as anyone, but the wavering intensity and at times nonchalance has led to questions about his commitment. We’ll see if he can mature and figure it out, but there’s a reason he wasn’t a top-10 pick a year ago, and Zboril didn’t help himself a great deal last season. This time around, a bounce-back campaign would be nice, but because he’s a 1997-born player, he either has to make the Boston roster out of camp or go back to the QMJHL. That has led to speculation that he might take his game to Europe in 2016-17.

 

Jake DeBrusk, LW        Drafted: 14 (1st round- Boston)

Red Line ranking: 25                  Key comment: “42 goals and NHL bloodlines will attract attention.”

Observations: The son of former NHL enforcer Lou DeBrusk, the Red Deer Rebels forward finished strong with an excellent WHL playoffs and Memorial Cup tournament after a tough year offensively. Dogged by a significant lower-body injury early on, DeBrusk was then traded by Swift Current to the Memorial Cup host city club in late December, where he appeared to be getting his production on track before getting moved around various lines and scoring at a little over a point-per-game clip. It was a step down after scoring 42 goals a year ago, but DeBrusk is still a smart winger with impressive offensive hockey sense, and he showed some opportunistic offense with the spotlight on him in the Memorial Cup last month. As a late 1996-born player, the Bruins have options: he is signed and can spend the next season in Providence, or they can return DeBrusk to the WHL for his overage season. He’s a good kid who has been unfairly maligned because of where he was drafted and the fact that most public scouting lists had him in the 20’s, but he went about 10 spots earlier. Still- 42 goals is 42 goals- watch for DeBrusk to elevate his stock because he’s got the skill, smarts and dedication to be more than the sum of his parts. He’s got to get stronger, which could factor into a decision to send him back to junior, and his skating isn’t subpar, but he could stand to add some quickness in his first few steps. He compensates at this level by reading the play so well and bursting to pucks in open ice, but that will be tougher to do in the pro ranks with the reduced time and space.

 

Zach Senyshyn, RW        Drafted: 15 (1st round- Boston)

Red Line ranking: 46                  Key comment: “Love his combination of size, skating and edginess.”

Observations: The first big surprise off the draft board in 2015 sparked an immediate wave of negativity from many who had never even seen him play. At 6-2, he can really skate, rapidly exploding to top speed in just a few long strides, and often times blowing by defenders on the outside and taking pucks straight to the net. He went from 26 to 45 goals from his draft season, but there is still significant room for improvement in Senyshyn’s game, and folks should not see failure if he is returned to junior before the next season. Though an impressive physical specimen, Senyshyn still needs to develop a more complete game and avoid the tendency for younger scoring forwards to hang out and wait for their next offensive chance. The payoff on this player could be big so long as people are patient, because he has the natural NHL tools to be a top-six forward one day, but some guys take longer than others, and the B’s can afford to wait a little. Like Zboril, Senyshyn can’t play full-time in the AHL next season if he doesn’t make the Boston roster out of camp.

 

Brandon Carlo, D                     Drafted: 37 (2nd round- Boston)

Red Line ranking: 41                   Key comment: “Huge with improving puck/skating skating skills. Big upside.”

Observations: The gigantic Colorado product is already a fan favorite and he has all the makings of a dominant shutdown defender who can at some point help get the Boston blue line group pointed in the right direction. Like DeBrusk, Carlo can play for Providence next season, but it might all be moot, as this huge, mobile defender might just break camp and enter the season on Boston’s roster. Not to put a lot of pressure on the Tri-City Americans rearguard, but he’s talented enough to play right away. The big question is whether the Bruins will opt to let him play a bigger role in the AHL before making a decision. Either way, we’re pretty much looking at a player who looks like as solid a bet as any to play in the NHL. The question we’re left with is what kind of impact Carlo will have: on the positive side- he can really skate for a 6-5 player, with speed and agility, and he can fire off cannon drives from the point. Alas, not real sure of the vision and natural hockey sense, but his game is good enough to reach the NHL, even if he tops out as a solid 3-4 shutdown guy at that level.

 

Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson, C             Drafted: 45 (2nd round- Boston)

Red Line ranking: 70                   Key comment: “Strong two-way pivot but a bit mechanical.”

Observations: Swedish product is coming off a superb freshman season at Boston University. A lot of observers have drawn comparisons to Patrice Bergeron, which sets the bar pretty darn high for the player known as “JFK” but he sets himself apart with his refined game, smarts and overall poise. Forsbacka-Karlsson showed a natural flair for winning draws and despite not having high-end speed, shows a nice changeup of gears through the neutral zone and often pulled players out of position with a series of deceptive movements and head fakes. With soft hands and a natural knack for threading the needle, the sky is the limit for this kid, who left home in Sweden to adjust to North America in the USHL for two years before joining the Terriers. In hindsight, RLR had him a little low for what he’s shown in the early going.

 

Jeremy Lauzon, D                          Drafted: 52 (2nd round- Boston)

Red Line ranking: 59                   Key comment: “Vastly underrated blue liner can hit, skate and score.”

Observations: This Red Line favorite went right around where he was projected by our Quebec guys, who saw him surge nicely in the second half. In 2015-16, he took his game up a notch, establishing offensive highs in assists and points, despite fighting through injuries that forced him out of the lineup and hampered his progress in the second half. He managed to return from a horrific skate cut to the neck during the second round of the QMJHL playoffs. His Rouyn-Noranda Huskies won the league championship, and he was able to get back to action in the Memorial Cup tournament, dropping the championship game to the London Knights. Lauzon skates well enough, though he’s still addressing his transitory skating mechanics- the pivots and turns can be a little slushy at times. He has a big shot, deft passing touch and will hit and fight to defend teammates when necessary. He could be the best of the three defensemen drafted by Boston in 2015.

 

 

Daniel Vladar, G                           Drafted: 75 (3rd round- Boston)

Red Line ranking: 67                   Key comment: “Poor technique, but he’s 6-5 and a human gumby.”

Observations: When it comes to high ceilings for goaltenders, Vladar was among the leaders in the class of 2015.  He played well for the USHL’s Chicago Steel, splitting the starts and posting respectable numbers, but the Czech native is still raw and years away from staking a claim for NHL time in the crease. Interestingly enough, the Bruins signed Vladar to an ELC, making him ineligible to return to the USHL, and it looks like Vladar could play in the ECHL or AHL next season. Don’t rule out a spot in the CHL despite the ban on European net minders if Vladar’s agents can successfully argue a loophole that establishes North American residency for him over the last 12 months. I guess we will see.

 

 

Jesse Gabrielle, LW                        Drafted: 105   (4th round- Boston)

Red Line ranking: 132                   Key comment: “Naturally abrasive cuss plays like a burr up under the saddle.”

Observations: At one time thought of as a potential second-rounder, Gabrielle slid to the fourth round, where his favorite team snapped him up.  One year later, he exploded for 40 goals after being dealt from the Regina Pats to the Prince George Cougars last August. Gabrielle is about 5-11, but is a thick and sturdy 205 pounds- he plays like a little wrecking ball, driving through traffic and getting pucks to the net the old fashioned way. He’s also very tough to play against as he dishes out big hits, is nasty along the walls and will go after anyone who crosses him. Gabrielle is an exciting prospect as someone who had modest expectations this season and blew them up. The key for him will be to keep progressing now that he’ll have opponents keying on him and will likely be playing back in the WHL this season as a 1997-born player. Unfortunately, the AHL is not an option for him until 2017-18

 

Cameron Hughes, C                        Drafted: 165   (6th round- Boston)

Red Line ranking: 71                  Key comment: “So underrated, underscouted he may not get drafted.”

Observations: Well, the draft snub didn’t happen- the B’s grabbed him in the middle of the sixth round- but if you put a lot of stock in the Red Line rankings, then the team got a heck of a value with the Alberta native there. A highly creative and skilled playmaking pivot, Hughes impressed RLR staffers going back to the 2013-14 season when he was a standout in the AJHL with the Spruce Grove Saints. Unfortunately, Hughes had the double whammy in his draft year of playing on a poor Wisconsin Badgers team, coupled with being physically under-developed in going up against the bigger, stronger, older NCAA competition. Hughes had a better offensive season as a sophomore and showed some flashes of NHL-caliber ability (he could work his way up to second-line center one day, as crazy as that might sound today), but the consistent production wasn’t there for him. Under a new coach and perhaps being a year older and a better surrounding cast, watch Hughes to open up some eyes this coming year.

 

Jack Becker, C/W                                         Drafted: 195 (7th round- Boston)

Red Line ranking: 222

Observations: The Mahtomedi HS-drafted player and University of Wisconsin recruit had a pretty average USHL season with the Sioux Falls Stampede, scoring eight goals and 22 points in 58 games. He’s got a big frame and has some intriguing skill, but is a long shot to ever do anything of substance in the NHL. We’ll have to take the long view and see how he looks in the NCAA, but all signs point to a slow transition that will take a few years and we might not even have a realistic view on his development path until 2018 at the earliest.

 

 

Bruins prospect updates- the Pros

Most of the Boston Bruins’ are in offseason mode. Note, I said most- not all.

Jake DeBrusk’s Red Deer Rebels were eliminated from WHL championship play by the Brandon Wheat Kings, but by virtue of being the Memorial Cup host city, they’ll be playing May hockey once the three CHL champions are decided.

Jeremy Lauzon, who dodged a major scare after taking a skate blade to the neck a few weeks back missed Rouyn-Noranda’s third-round playoff series win over the Moncton Wildcats. He may or may not be back for the President’s Cup series against the Shawinigan Cataractes. The deeper the Huskies go, the better the chance that the B’s may see one of their three second-round picks back in action, but that will depend on medical clearance and the player’s long-term health takes precedence over the desire to have him in the lineup today.

For everyone else, it’s about preparing for the 2016-17 season. I’m breaking up the prospects list into pro and amateur sections, and sliding all of the recent NCAA signings and players who are projected to be playing in the AHL season next year onto the pro side.

B’s pro prospects

Noel Acciari, C (undrafted free agent- 2015): The former Providence College captain finished the season with the big club, playing 19 NHL games down the stretch and impressing with his skating, smarts and effort. The single assist with the B’s is  an indicator that offense will not be Acciai’s strong suit, but given more time to center the bottom line as he gains experience, more production will come. He’s an overachiever who is strong on draws, hits everything forcefully but cleanly, and immediately earned the respect and trust of coaches. He broke his jaw when he took a Chris Casto shot to the face earlier to the season or else, as reported by Providence Journal veteran reporter Mark Divver, Acciari would have made his Boston debut even earlier. He’s signed through next season (pending RFA) at a $792.5k cap hit.

Linus Arnesson, D (2013 draft, 2nd round): The Swedish defender had tougher first full North American season than projected, dealing with nagging injuries for most of the year. Never a player who was thought of as having a high offensive ceiling, he’s mobile and savvy, but more was expected of him. With a year under his belt, Arnesson is a player who could see a Boston opportunity via recall at some point next season if there are injury issues on the B’s blue line, but if he can stay healthy, the focus will be on continued development. Arnesson is under contract through 2017 (pending RFA) at a $817.5k hit.

Anton Blidh, LW (2013 draft, 6th round): Gritty, abrasive forward doesn’t bring much in the way of points potential, but if you’re looking for a grinding energy winger who forces turnovers and plays a heavy game, Blidh’s your guy. Having said that, the B’s have no shortage of forwards who fit in this category, so there’s not a big buzz factor here. He’s got two more years on his ELC (2018) with about a $784k cap hit.

Brandon Carlo, D (2015 draft, 2nd round): One of Boston’s more eagerly anticipated prospects after being the 37th selection in June 2015, the late ’96-born Colorado native is eligible to spend the 2016-17 season in the AHL if he doesn’t make the Boston roster out of camp. At 6-foot-5, he’s highly mobile and a premium shutdown type defender. The jury is still out on his offensive instincts/vision to develop into a higher-end two-way threat at the NHL level, but make no mistake- this guy will play. Last fall, Carlo signed a three-year ELC that will keep him under contract through the 2019 season (RFA) at a rate of $820k per.

Chris Casto, D (undrafted free agent- 2013): Casto posted his best pro season to date, but has the look of a journeyman pro at the AHL level and it’s hard to see him beating out those higher on the depth chart to make a go of it His ELC is up and there’s a good chance that the B’s will allow the former University of Minnesota-Duluth star to hook on with another team.

Colby Cave, C (undrafted free agent- 2015): After signing with the Bruins a year ago, Cave showed some promise in Providence as an effective two-way forward with speed. He’s not a top-six project, but could in time establish himself on the lower lines. With two more seasons left (2018) on his ELC before Cave becomes a RFA ($655k), the former WHL captain is in the fold at a nice rate.

Austin Czarnik, C (undrafted free agent- 2015): The AHL’s leading rookie scorer with 61 points had opened eyes this season. Despite his small stature, he’s a plus-skater with superb puck skills and the hockey IQ to provide offense. He nearly willed Providence to a victory in Game 3 of their sweep at the hands of Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, and is a solid bet to see NHL time with the Bruins next season. He’s signed through 2017 at a rate of $817,500 (RFA).

Brian Ferlin, RW (2011 draft, 4th round): He was greatly impacted with concussion woes this season, his second pro campaign after a promising 2014-15 year that saw him earn a late stint in Boston. A bottom-six winger who can skate and excel in puck possession, Ferlin needs a bounce-back campaign in 2016-17. His ELC ($875k) is up and he is a restricted free agent.

Seth Griffith, RW (2012 draft, 5th round): Providence’s top scorer (23 goals, 77 points in 57 games) saw some very limited time in Boston this season and is still on the bubble in terms of proving whether he can break into a top-six forward role or might be a ‘tweener as someone who puts up points in the AHL, but has trouble establishing himself in the NHL. He’s got the hands and head to score, but the lack of size and speed make it a challenge for him. Griffith’s ELC ($759k) is finished and he’ll likely be tendered a qualifying offer, but whether the B’s dangle him as part of a trade package at some point remains to be seen.

Matt Grzelcyk, D (2012 draft, 3rd round): The Boston University captain signed a two-year (thru 2018) NHL contract worth a reported $858,750 per season (RFA) at the conclusion of his NCAA season. It was a tougher year for the Townie, as he dealt with starting the season late after knee surgery, only to injure his other knee shortly after coming back. His excellent speed and puck-moving ability will make him one of Providence’s top threats in all situations if he doesn’t win an NHL job out of camp next fall.

Colton Hargrove, LW (2012 draft, 7th round): A pleasant surprise, finishing sixth on the team in scoring with 14 goals and 30 points in 66 games. A big, rugged forward- Hargrove’s improved conditioning helped him to have success, but after a productive and impressive middle stretch of the season, he cooled off at the end. There is one more season left on his ELC, which pays him a $737,500 rate (RFA)

Danton Heinen, RW/LW (2014 draft, 4th round): After a tough start offensively, the British Columbia native erupted in the second half of the year for Denver University, finishing as the team’s top scorer and helping DU reach the Frozen Four. He’s a slick, playmaking wing who posted a pair of assists in his pro hockey debut with Providence and is a darkhorse to break camp with the NHL Bruins on the opening night roster come October. He’s signed through 2019 at a $872.5k cap hit.

Justin Hickman, LW (undrafted free agent- 2015): The Seattle Thunderbirds captain did not have the anticipated impact after missing the rest of 2015 to shoulder surgery and signing with Boston. He’s a hard-nosed winger with underrated scoring ability, but took a while to adjust and adapt to the demands of the AHL. Heavy on the puck and willing to play a physical, grinding game- watch for him to take on more of a consistent role next season, with about 15-20 goals at the AHL level a reasonable target to aim for. Hickman is on an ELC that keeps him a Bruin through 2018 at an (unconfirmed per General Fanager) $700k hit.

Alexander Khokhlachev, C (2011 draft, 2nd round): Despite making a difference in the AHL for much of the season, the 40th overall selection was not able to do much with the limited ice time he was given in Boston. There’s not much else can be said that hasn’t been already at TSP- he’s talented enough to be an NHL forward but hasn’t translated being an impact performer on the farm to the big show. Koko’s ELC has expired and he is expected to either be traded to another organization or pursue his Europe options with St. Petersburg, which owns his KHL rights.

Sean Kuraly, C (trade with SJS- 2015): The Miami University RedHawks captain signed for two years (thru 2018 at a $809k cap rate) after finishing a disappointing senior year. Acquired from the San Jose Sharks last June as part of the return for goaltender Martin Jones, Kuraly has good size and skating ability to be more of a two-way center or wing who is heavy on the puck and does the grinding work on the bottom-six.

Zane McIntyre, G (2010 draft, 6th round): A TSP favorite since before he was drafted in 2010, it was a season of ups and downs for the rookie pro. The former star at University of North Dakota has some work to do on technique and mechanics after being exposed at times during the regular season. His performance in Game 3 was a particular disappointment, but he has the drive to roll up the sleeves and get to work, so it will be interesting to see how he responds to the adversity next year. He’s signed through 2017 at a $975k cap hit (RFA).

Colin Miller, D (trade with LAK- 2015): The NHL tools are clearly there for the one-time Kings prospect picked up last draft day as part of the Milan Lucic trade. Although not tall, Miller has a thick build and has the skating and puck skills to be a solid NHL defender, but he also has to show he can think the game enough to log bigger minutes and take care of his own end. Miller’s ELC ($602,500) expired and he is RFA. Expect the B’s to extend him a qualifying offer and we’ll see what happens next.

Rob O’Gara, D (2011 draft, 5th round): Four-year starter and NCAA champion at Yale University finished up his eligibility this past March and signed a two-year ELC worth $925,00 per through 2018.A big (6-4), mobile defender who is sound positionally and can move the puck effectively, O’Gara may need developmental time in the AHL, but could one day join Boston’s blue line to form a pretty good shutdown presence with Carlo.

Malcolm Subban, G (2012 draft, 1st round): After a rough beginning due to a lower body injury, Subban was playing the best hockey of his pro career over a two-month stretch in the AHL when he took a shot to the throat in warmups. A fractured larynx cost Subban the rest of his season and means he has to hit the reset button, so to speak. He’s talented enough to win the Boston backup job this fall, but experience and an extended run as an AHL starter have continued to elude the 24th overall pick. His ELC runs  for one more season at about $863k before he becomes RFA.

Frank Vatrano, LW (undrafted free agent- 2015): The crown jewel of undrafted free agents last year tore apart the AHL (36 goals, 55 points) in 36 games with Providence, and still found time to make an impressive showing in Boston, where he finished the NHL season. The Springfield Rifle (no, I’m not calling him the “East Longmeadow Rifle”- that doesn’t have anywhere near the ring) added eight more goals in 39 games while exhibiting the speed and gusto that is sure to produce more offense at the highest level. Vatrano’s transformation and sheer impact this season earned him AHL co-Rookie of the Year honors (with Colorado prospect Mikko Rantanen) and set him up as a potential key contributor in Boston going forward.

Daniel Vladar, G (2015 draft, 3rd round): After finishing a solid USHL season with the Chicago Steel, the 75th selection last June is a giant (6-foot-6) project with impressive athletic ability. On the flip side, Vladar needs work with his technique and is still pretty raw- it remains to be seen whether he will be in the AHL, ECHL or possibly Europe next season. While not impossible, NHL is about as long a shot as it gets for Vladar at this stage of his development. Signed a three-year contract in late April worth $742,500 annually.

(Source for contract updates: http://www.generalfanager.com/teams/boston-bruins)

Update:

Maxim Chudinov, D (2010 draft, 7th round): After reports that the small, speedy and feisty defender wanted to sign and come over to North America, his St. Petersburg SKA team in the KHL just announced that he agreed to another two-year contract extension. Though it does have several reported provisions to give him an out if he gets an NHL offer or if his salary isn’t paid on time, the Bruins lose his exclusive negotiating rights on July 1. It looks like Chudinov won’t justify Boston’s decision to draft him six years ago, though the door isn’t completely closed. His agent is former NHL defenseman Petr Svoboda. If you can read Russian, here’s the extension announcement: http://www.ska.ru/news/view/ska-prodlil-kontrakt-s-maksimom-chudinovym

(h/t to Dominic Tiano for the update)

 

 

Contrasts

There were only two games scheduled at the World Under-18 tournament Friday and I was struck at how similar they were despite the great disparity on the outcomes.

Sweden barely eked out a win in overtime against Latvia, while Canada hammered an overmatched Danish squad.

The Swedes were 19.1 seconds away from a disastrous upset thanks to the brilliant goaltending work of Mareks “Mittens” Mitens, who stymied his opponents after Sweden scored twice to take a quick 2-0 lead and appeared to be on their way to cruising to a big win. Alas for the Tre Kronor, though they owned territorial play and a major edge in shots for a large swath of the contest, but allowed the Latvians to surge ahead. Mittens was outstanding, and he turned what many of us thought would be a snoozer of a game into a genuinely enjoyable event.

It took Sweden’s best player in Alex Nylander, and a perfect laser 1-timer to avert what would have been a disastrous loss for them. As it stands, although they won in overtime, the international scoring system means they put themselves at a disadvantage. Full marks to Latvia and Mittens for raising their game when Sweden gave them an opening, but the pace and lack of urgency by the blue and gold (until the veryend)
contributed to the near-upset.

Conversely, Canada found themselves in a similar situation against another lower-end team in Denmark. After surging to a 2-0 lead, goaltender Stuart Skinner gave up two goals on three shots and it was a 2-2 game. Canada would then ratchet up the intensity, crash the net, and pound Denmark into submission. This of course after the lights went out at the Ralph Engelstad Arena just before the start of the second period, causing a more than an hour delay and effectively killing any momentum the Danes might have had. Canada jumped on them, powered by Jordan Kyrou’s four goals and future UND Fighting Hawks centet Tyson Jost’s 2 goals and 5 points in a stretch of about 25 minutes.

Canada scored many of their 10 goals just by crashing the net, and beating the Danes (who were often just standing around) to loose pucks. Canada did what Sweden wouldn’t, and it showed in the final result, as Denmark never mounted much of a threat after scoring twice to tie it in the first period.

Mittens and Latvia will likely get the same treatment from the USA that Denmark got last night, so it will be interesting to see how he fares in net with a team that is not going to give him the clear sight lines and room in the crease that Sweden did.

Select player observations:

Dante Fabbro, D– You can see how smart and mobile he is. Impressed with his lateral movement on the blue line and in getting pucks to the net with multiple helpers. He did whiff defensively on a rush when he tried to play the puck instead of the body and the Danish forward powered through him and right to the net, but overall, he stood out.

Jordan Kyrou, F– Everything he touched turned to gold, as he was engaged and involved, going to the net and getting rewarded for it. He showed off a good stick, especially in close, getting the dirty goals…4 of them to be exact.

Jakob Chychrun, D– You can see why he’s gotten so much attention with his size and skating. He didnt do much to stand out, but the talent absolutely is there.

Alex Nylander, F– Until he scored the tying goal, he was largely uninvolved and not all that impressive. He’s definitely got some wiggle in the way he can stickhandle through traffic, but he was out on the perimeter a lot and not using his teammates much. Then, in a split second, he unleashed a perfect drive and saved Sweden’s bacon.

Update: final regular season stats: Sean Kuraly, Cameron Hughes, Emil Johansson

The 2015-16 hockey regular schedules are over for NCAA prospects Sean Kuraly and Cameron Hughes, plus European pro D Emil Johansson, whose HV71 club was eliminated from the Swedish Hockey League playoffs this week by Skellefteå AIK.

We’ll hold off for now on updating Daniel Vladar and Jack Becker, both of whom I referenced recently on Twitter. The USHL season still has a few weeks left to play out, so will revisit them later.

The Bruins have a more immediate decision to make about Kuraly, who just exhausted his NCAA eligibility and can either be signed now or prior to August 1, at which point he becomes an unrestricted free agent. Hughes just completed his sophomore season at Wisconsin. Johansson is 19 and will probably be left overseas to continue his development for a few more years at least before any decision on him is made.

Sean Kuraly, C Miami University (NCHC)

2015-16 regular season stats:

Games Played: 36  Goals: 6  Assists: 17  Points: 23  Penalty Minutes: 39  +/-:  5

Differentials from 2014-15 stats:

Games played: -4  Goals: -13  Assists: +7 Points: -6 Penalty Minutes: +1  +/-: +4

Season in review: The senior captain got of to a poor statistical start and never quite recovered, finishing the year with the lowest goal total since his freshman season with the RedHawks. A year after posting 19 goals as a junior, the 23-year-old Kuraly was expected to provide more production for the disappointing 15-18-3 Miami squad. Having said that, his ’15-16 offense was comparable to his previous two years with 29 points each, and Kuraly has never been a point-per-game player at the NCAA level. He increased his assists at the cost of goals, but truth in lending- aside from one impressive 32-goal, 70-point season with Indiana of the USHL, scoring is not what he’s known for. Here’s a Miami RedHawks rink report featuring Kuraly from February:

Outlook: The Boston Globe reported that Kuraly is in town this week getting checked out by the team’s medical staff. That’s a curious disposition that begs the question as to whether he was playing hurt this season and if there is something under the surface that might preclude the Bruins from signing him in the immediate sense of things. The former fifth-round pick in 2011 by the San Jose Sharks is a big, heavy-on-the-puck forward who may get moved to the wing in the pro ranks where he can perhaps one day skate a regular shift as a bottom-6, checking and energy guy. The Ohio native doesn’t have a great deal of high-level potential in the NHL, but he’s useful and versatile. With 47 contracts out of 50 already on the books in Boston, this is something the team might elect to kick down the road until some of the existing contracts come off the ledger and sign Kuraly then. Either way, aside from getting some AHL games in with Providence the way Brandon Carlo is doing, there isn’t an immediate requirement to agree to terms. And even so- the amateur tryout option allows for the team to assign him to the Baby B’s without an NHL deal in place. Here’s a highlight video package on Kuraly and fellow Miami RedHawk Riley Barber from the gold medal-winning Team USA squad at the 2013 World Jr. Championship (posted by Brendan Burke):

Cameron Hughes, C University of Wisconsin (Big Ten)

2015-16 regular season stats:

Games Played: 32  Goals: 5  Assists: 20  Points: 25  Penalty Minutes: 12  +/-: -11

Differentials from 2014-15 stats:

Games played: -2  Goals: +2  Assists: +10 Points: +13 Penalty Minutes: -25  +/-: +6

Season in review: Boston’s sixth-round choice last June nearly double his points output from his freshman year, a tough campaign for the Badgers (4-26-5) that saw his draft stock fall off dramatically. This past year was another sub-.500 season that cost head coach Mike Eaves his job, but Hughes demonstrated growth and progress, finishing second on the team in helpers and fourth in scoring overall. He stands only about 6-foot and has an extremely light frame that won’t fill out all that much as he matures, but Hughes is gritty and willing to stick his nose in. He’s not ultra speedy, but moves well laterally and brings shifty elusiveness, especially in traffic. Hughes only tallied five goals, and has been more of a passer/playmaker at every level, but his vision and creativity are impressive attributes. Here’s a 1st half highlight video set to one of my favorite bands Chevelle (the Red) from the Badgers YouTube feed with a nice shootout goal from Hughes (No. 19) at the 2:35 mark:

 

Outlook: If Wisconsin can get its program back on track, Hughes stands to be one of the go-to forwards as an upperclassman. The former Spruce Grove (AJHL) star came to the NCAA last year tipping the scales at a rumored less than 150 pounds, so he’s one of those guys who will need plenty of time to get stronger and develop his body. Even so- he might not have the build to pack on much mass, so Hughes will have to keep honing his hockey skills and make an impact on the score sheet. For a player taken as low as 165th overall, Hughes doesn’t have much pressure on him to take his time in college and then see a minors apprenticeship if the B’s sign him in a few years. He’s got an uphill climb, but there are encouraging signs that the Edmonton native could emerge as a name player in the college ranks as early as next season.

Here’s a nice pass by Hughes to 2016 NHL draft 1st-round prospect & Badgers freshman Luke Kunin at 1:28 of this highlight package from the University of North Dakota:

Emil Johansson, D HV71 Jonkoping (SHL)

2015-16 regular season stats:

Games Played: 50  Goals: 2  Assists: 8  Points: 10  Penalty Minutes: 12  +/-: 2

Differentials from 2014-15 stats:

Games played: +18  Goals: +2  Assists: +7 Points: +9 Penalty Minutes: 0  +/-: +11

Season in review: 2014 seventh-rounder was just another face in the crowd for much of the SHL campaign until he took off in the postseason, scoring three goals and five points in just six playoff games. A year ago, he played 35 games and didn’t find the back of the net. Until the last couple of weeks of this past season, he was held without a goal until he tallied a pair of scores in quick succession en route to posting 10 points in 50 games in Sweden’s top pro league. A more confident Johansson saw more ice in the extra season and made it pay off, leading his team’s blue liners in playoff scoring in a six-game opening round loss.

Outlook: Even with the impressive showing in the SHL playoffs, you don’t want to read too much into things. Johansson is a very good skater but has average size and strength, so he’s got to be able to push the pace a bit and find a way to chip in offensively. At one point, he was shaping up to be an impressive draft prospect, but it didn’t happen for him. However, Johansson is earning an extended look, as the B’s are impressed with his performance. The hockey sense and vision is still a bit of a question mark, and he’ll have to put in the weight room work, but Johansson might be able to elevate his stock within the organization next season and with a new team if reports he’s leaving HV71 are true.

B’s prospects deep dive 5: Europe report Cehlarik, Chudinov & Johansson

We’re here again with another post charting the progress of B’s prospects as we get close to the end of the 2015-16 regular season.

In the case of the European leagues, those regular campaigns are already in the books and the playoffs are in full swing. European pro hockey starts a full month sooner than the NHL and AHL do, so with that in mind, the B’s have just a few players overseas at this stage with Linus Arnesson, Anton Blidh, Jakub Zboril, Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson and Daniel Vladar all playing in North America.

Peter Cehlarik, RW/LW

The 90th overall selection in 2013 is from Slovakia but has been playing pro hockey in Sweden for the past four seasons. He just posted a career-best 11 goals and 20 points (in 46 games) for Lulea of Sweden’s top professional circuit and his near .5 points-per-game clip reflects his decent if not high-end potential to make an impact one day in the NHL.

At 6-1 and about 200 pounds, the left-shooting right wing (he has played both sides in Sweden) has the size to handle the more rugged North American style when he comes over. Cehlarik is not a physical player but will go to the net and use his frame to establish position in the high-danger areas in close. He’s an average skater- his initial burst has improved from when he was drafted at the end of the third round, and once he gets a good head of steam going, Cehlarik is powerful in the open ice and can back defenses up. He’s still not overly agile and tends to play the game more in straight lines, which is fine, but he’s not explosive, lacks the speed to separate and isn’t ideal in the short-area game where the ability to make quick starts and stops to change direction is needed.

Bruins GM Don Sweeney once described Cehlarik’s drive as a “slingshot” and the winger does like to score goals off the rush, where he is able to generate power on it as it comes off his stick in full gallop. He also has the quick hands to stick handle and dangle for the highlight reel goal, but that’s not really his bread and butter. He’s got the natural offensive hockey IQ and puck skills to make offense happen on his own, and if paired with an effective playmaker, could be even more dangerous than he’s been in the SHL. Here’s some of his work between the hash marks in a game earlier this season (video posted by kristiantrencin):

While not a rugged, hard-nosed power forward Cehlarik has more toughness than I might have given him credit for. This week, he took a skate blade to the lower neck and received a nasty gash that required at least 15 stitches to close. He went right out and back into the game after the repair work was done and assisted on the game-winning goal. I’m sure that earned some serious respect from the B’s organization, which has some choices to make entering the offseason with a lot of players in the system and some needs at defense that will likely require some of those intriguing prospects to be offloaded at some point.

Current assessment: The 20-year-old does not currently project as a forward who has star/top-six forward potential but looks more like a very good third-liner and complementary wing who can provide secondary scoring. He’s likely going to need AHL time to learn Boston’s system and acclimate to the three-zone demands that he’ll be expected to uphold, which is different from what he’s been asked to do as one of Lulea’s top threats on a larger ice surface. As alluded to earlier, there’s also a chance Cehlarik could be used as trade bait in a package deal to bring in a defenseman if another team out there likes his potential enough, but he’s not enough of a talent to be the centerpiece in any discussion. You have to give to get, so even with Cehlarik’s skill and interesting development curve to date, I could see the B’s offering him up in trade talks as opposed to having to be talked into including him in any deal. That’s just pure speculation, but the skate injury is certainly something we should be glad wasn’t more serious, and my hat’s off to him for getting right back in there and having a direct hand in his team’s win that night.  That just goes to show that grit and toughness is not solely defined by how hard you hit or how good a fighter you are- Cehlarik is not that style of power forward, but he might just be someone who can earn a spot in Boston one day.

Maxim Chudinov, D

The seventh-round pick in 2010 (he was one of two Boston selections on defense in that round with Zach Trotman being the other) turns 26 on the 25th of this month and is a smallish (5-11, 200-pound) player with a bulldog mentality on the ice.

Chudinov earned a level of infamy (and Pierre McGuire’s ire) on a late, after-the-whistle hit he leveled on Claude Giroux during the 2007 Canada-Russia Super Series tournament. But hey- don’t let me deprive you of the moment- you can watch for yourself (video posted by GregC89):

Built like fire hydrant, Chudinov might be short, but is an excellent skater who accelerates quickly in a couple of rapid, powerful strides and uses his straight-line speed and fine agility to effortlessly navigate the ice surface. He’s got some underrated offensive tools- Chudinov uses his superior vision and offensive hockey sense to distribute the puck effectively in the offensive zone when on the man advantage and can move it quickly when coming out of his own end. He also has the mobility and puck handling savvy to carry it out of his end and through the neutral zone on his own, which is a plus in the modern NHL.

He’s a nasty, dirty player who is known for his stick work and for taking liberties when the referee’s attention is elsewhere (and sometimes he’ll engage in cheap stuff when the ref is looking at him, as evidenced by his high penalty numbers every season).  While there is a time and place for the chippy play, Chudinov often lacks the personal discipline to pass up on an opportunity to destroy an opponent or take advantage of one in a vulnerable position. It all comes down to how you view the game, with a player like Chudinov: if you appreciated what someone like Zac Rinaldo brought to the Bruins, you will have no problem getting behind the Russian defender (who has a world of ability better than Rinaldo does). If you did not appreciate Rinaldo’s antics, then it won’t take much for Chudinov’s act to wear thin. Assuming he ever signs and comes over in the first place, that is.

Current assessment: My friend and colleague Dominic Tiano has done honest work in talking to Chudinov’s people to determine whether he will sign and join the Bruins organization before his rights expire at the end of the season. He’s been told that Chudinov wants to come over, but at this stage, it is up to Boston to decide whether to invest the contract and effort to get him integrated. I have heard through other sources that Chudinov wants a situation similar to that of Carl Soderberg– where he can come over and go right into the NHL lineup and not down to Providence right away. Whatever the truth behind that, the B’s don’t exactly have a lot of openings on the blue line with their big club, and depending on how they view Chudinov, this could be a case where they opt just to let him go.

I won’t lie- while I recognize Chudinov’s impressive speed and puck-moving/offensive skills, I don’t care for him or his attitude. Dom and I just disagree here, and if he ends up being worked into the mix, then so be it. But, I don’t think he’s done much to earn a straight chance into the Boston lineup and given that the B’s have Torey Krug and another similarly built and skilled defender in Matt Grzelcyk waiting in the wings, I don’t think the B’s need bother with Chudinov. Grzelcyk plays the game the right way and isn’t going to put his teammates at a disadvantage with undisciplined play. I like physical, intense hockey like the next person, but there is a line and Chudinov has built a reputation for crossing it in his body of work. I don’t see him as a true difference-maker at his position, so I have no problem with the Bruins moving on from him if that’s their choice.

Emil Johansson, D

The Swedish seventh-round pick in 2014 is another average-sized defender with good wheels and puck-moving skills, but doesn’t have a high offensive ceiling.

At about 6-foot in height and a stocky build, Johansson’s greatest strength is his skating and mobility. He gets off the mark quickly and has a fluid stride with the ability to pivot smoothly and control his balance and edging with grace and ease. He’s effective when moving backwards and crossing over, able to stay with fast and agile puck carriers.

The HV71 rearguard is coming along in his second full season at the pro level and after going without a goal for much of the regular campaign, netted a pair of goals in recent weeks to get off the schneid. He’s more of a defensive presence who can advance the puck and works well in retrieval when he has to retreat deep into his zone to corral pucks along the walls and beat the forward in order to gain possession and transition the play back the other way.

Johansson isn’t the most instinctive or creative of players- he’s at his most effective when he’s moving up the ice and keeping the puck in front of him. He doesn’t seem to have the vision to instantly read/react and recognize the unfolding play before and as it happens- that instantaneous ability to process and then decisively act on offense and defense is what separates solid players with NHL-caliber tools with the exceptional players who are difference-makers at the highest level as opposed to average or journeyman types.

Current assessment: Johansson was a seventh-round selection for a reason. He’s not a bad player, and seems to have the raw materials that could one day see him earn a job in the NHL if he wants one. But, he’s also a player who was never able to crack his country’s World Jr. squad, and he’s not taken broad leaps forward in his development. He’s more of a safe/steady type of player in the Arnesson mold, only his countryman and 2013 B’s pick is bigger and more talented. Taking Johansson where they did made sense to the Bruins as a project player worth letting percolate and seeing if he could grow into something more than the sum of some solid but unspectacular parts, but he’s not a prospect who is making much of a bold statement as one who has legitimate long-term potential to contribute as anything more than perhaps a bottom-pairing role player.

TSP will be back next to look at some of the players in Providence: Seth Griffith, Alexander Khokhlachev, Zane McIntyre and Brian Ferlin.